By Sarah W
I was in great health. I was 28, a wildlife biologist and wildland firefighter, and was on a detail in Idaho fighting a wildland fire with my crew. I liked to push myself, so it wasn’t an unusual day when I kept carrying increasingly heavy tools and equipment across my shoulders. That evening, my head was pounding and my neck was killing me. I started getting what I thought were migraine-related auras. I later found out that this was my first TIA.
Almost exactly one week later, following 7 days full of ‘migraine auras’ and extreme neck pain, I was at the grocery store on a Friday night with my friend. While in the checkout line, I suddenly got unbearably dizzy. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t see. Speaking was difficult and operating my right side was a serious issue. My friend carried me outside, where I started vomiting in the parking lot. No one offered help – it was a Friday night and a relatively young girl looked like she went grocery shopping drunk. My friend tucked me in his truck and took me home, where he then had to carry me to my apartment. I refused to call 911 – I didn’t know anything about strokes and besides, I was so young and healthy! Two impossible days passed before I went to the doctor. I was told it was a migraine and given pain medicine. This happened for a full week – me crawling to make it down stairs, dropping cups and watching them shatter because my grip and vision just wasn’t quite right. Again, a full week later I finally had an MRI. I was called two hours later with news I would have never expected – I had a stroke on the right side of my cerebellum. I needed to go to the ER immediately. I spent a week there and was released to go home with 24 hour care. Physically I looked fine – mentally I was a mess. I continued to have TIAs and then siezures afterwards. But my family and friends helped me through.
Today, two years later, I still look completely ‘normal.’ People are surprised to learn that I’m a stroke survivor and now have epilepsy. With three grand mal siezures under my belt since my stroke, and countless small siezures, my life has changed drastically. My firefighting career is over. My job with the US Forest Service as a wildlife biologist is gone. I’m living at home with my family, because my siezures still aren’t under control, my sleep is awful, and my depression since my stroke has, at times, been almost unmanageable. But overall, I’m happy and positive. I walked away from that experience so much stronger. I’m intimately familiar with how quickly our lives can change, and have learned that I can’t control everything. And I’m endlessly amazed by the support that I continue to recieve. This entire experience has shown me that I’m loved, that I’m strong, and that I’m a lucky woman who made it through seemingly impossible circumstances to be standing here today.